Saturday, February 2, 2008

Question and Progress Report

I got a great question from roboRobert (he has a cool robotics blog, check it out!).
are you sure you've never done anything like this before?

Well, I do claim book learning in electronics and robotics. Sure, I have a computer engineering degree, and I do have programming experience, but I've done very little electronics tinkering and I'm quickly finding that book learning is a far cry from real world robotics experience! Although systems engineering is my day job and I'm in an SE master's program, this is helpful primarily because of my lack of experience in robotics.

Sparky is the first robot I've started to build from scratch. I say "started" because, despite his performance in the speed test video, behind the scenes he doesn't work reliably and he's in pieces right now. I just can't figure out why he stalls out half a second after starting to move. (No, you can't see the blooper reel of me cussing at the robot in my PJs)

Meanwhile I've been working to get Cruiser to follow a wall and turn a corner using infrared detectors. Turns out the "distance" readings change with battery charge and ambient light. Cruiser works in one room but not the other; he works one minute and not the next. Turning a corner is a total crap shoot.

Programming for the analog world is a whole different ballgame requiring a different mindset. Testing sensor readings under many conditions may help. Alternate sensors or algorithms may be less sensitive to environmental changes. I don't know. Getting better at diagnosing circuit problems with an oscilloscope should help for niggling electronics problems.

So, no, I've never really done anything quite like this and given all the trouble I'm having, and how little progress I've made in the last few weeks, I'd say it shows. :) With just over a month left I was kind of hoping to have more than just a prototype robot chassis completed. (In the chart, orange=design done, purple=built it).

So all that is left is the hard stuff: all the electronics and software for navigation, entering and leaving a room, finding the candle, and extinguishing it. Wish me luck, I'm going to need it.